Texas Primavera

Springtime Bluebonnets, Birds and Fishing
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Although there are many driving routes (known as bluebonnet trails) throughout the state, a good place to start is near the city of Burnet, which is known as the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas. Burnet is roughly 40 miles northwest ofAustin. Follow TX Hwy 29 west out of Burnet for 3-1/2 miles, then turn right (north) on Ranch Road 234 and follow it about 6 miles. Turn left on Graphite Mine Road, which will eventually meet TX Hwy 29. Turn left to return to Burnet.

A variation of this drive will give you different but equally spectacular views of bluebonnets as well as of Lake Buchanan. Follow TX Hwy 29 west and again turn right on RR 234. If you stay on this road, you'll have 15 miles of vistas before it finally dead-ends. You can return via the same route or make the turn on Graphite Mine Road.

If you want to see even more of the Hill Country, simply stay on TX Hwy 29 west all the way to Llano, a distance of about 30 miles. In Llano, turn left (south) on TX Hwy 16 and follow it to Fredericksburg (39 miles). In Fredericksburg turn left (east) on U.S. Hwy 290 and follow it 32 miles to Johnson City, then follow U.S. Hwy 281 north 37 miles to Burnet.

Another beautiful bluebonnet drive leads west from Brenham on U.S. Hwy 290 to Giddings (35 miles), south on U.S. Hwy 77 to LaGrange (20 miles), then north on TX 159 and 237, which will get you back to U.S. 290 in the city of Burton, about 15 miles west of Brenham. Brenham lies midway between Austin and Houston.

Each April 24, Texas celebrates State Wildflower Day, and many cities have pageants, parades, and other celebrations. A partial listing of cities includes Mason, Chappell Hill, Keney, Glen Rose, Ennis, and Hughes Springs. The best way to learn what is scheduled is to contact the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX 78739, (512) 292-4100. During March, April, and May, the Department of Transportation also has a telephone hotline with information on where bluebonnets are blooming: (800) 452-9292.


Bluebonnet Trails

Slightly more than a century ago, during the spring of 1886, Mary Taylor Bunton talked her husband into letting her accompany him on a cattle drive from their North Texas ranch along the Chisholm Trail. The young Mrs. Bunton was provided with a buggy, and she followed beside the herd on a hot and often hazardous journey through extremely rugged country. What impressed her most, however, was not the danger but rather the beauty. Specifically, the beauty of wildflowers.

Describing the trip later in her book, A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail in 1886, she wrote,"Wildflowers grew in the greatest profusion everywhere and there were many rare varieties that I had never seen before. . . . Sometimes I would fill my buggy and decorate my horses' bridles and harness with the gorgeous blossoms, then I would weave a wreath for my hair and a chaplet of flowers for my shoulders. [. . .] Seated in my flower-bedecked buggy it was easy enough for me to pretend that I was taking part in a grand flower parade."

Bluebonnets are found in many places besides the open ranchlands. Today, they also grow along hundreds of thousands of miles of Texas roadways, allowing them to be enjoyed by virtually anyone traveling in the state. This is the result of a program started more than 60 years ago when Jack Gubbels, the first landscape architect for the Texas Highway Department (now the Department of Transportation), developed and implemented a plan for roadside beautification. Not only was Texas the first state in America to plant flowers along its roadways, the department has continued the project ever since. Today tons of wildflower seeds are planted along nearly a million miles of Texas highways each year.

In 1965, Congress passed the National Highway Beautification Act, largely through the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Both, of course, were native Texans and used the state as an example of what could be accomplished in other parts of the country.

In 1982, Mrs. Johnson helped establish the National Wildflower Research Center near Austin, and it became so successful that the facility had to move to a new location in 1993. Mrs. Johnson donated the land for the new center as well as helped finance building construction.

Although visual enjoyment is certainly the most obvious benefit of this project, the annual bluebonnet reseeding actually accomplishes several things. The flowers not only help stabilize the soil and replenish nitrogen, they also provide food for a wide variety of wildlife. At the same time, bluebonnets save the Department of Transportation thousands of dollars in mowing and maintenance costs in just the few weeks they are blooming.Although more than 5,000 species of flowering plants are native to Texas, it is likely that at least a few of the flowers Mrs. Bunton enjoyed were bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis. There are actually six different species of bluebonnets in the Lone Star State, and taken collectively they are such a strong part of the Texas heritage they were adopted as the state flower in 1901.

Mrs. Bunton was not the first to describe the beautiful blue flowers. Botanists sent from Spain and England as early as the 1820s to collect plant specimens in the New World were both amazed and awed at the vast fields and meadows of bluebonnets that stretched for miles across the rolling hills.

The very same fields become covered today, beginning in mid to late March and usually peaking during the first two weeks of April. Some have described the scene as a time when the sky falls on Texas, while others liken it to a gently rolling sea of the bluest blue. Whatever the description, to see such huge expanses of wildflowers is an unforgettable experience.

The bluebonnet is a legume, which makes it distantly related in some ways to wisteria, peas, and even clover because it returns nitrogen to the ground. It has five petals, and although its color is primarily blue, some pinkish flowers are occasionally found, as are white albinos. Insects readily feed on the flowers, and deer will eat them when nothing else is available, but cattle won't touch them.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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